Dorman Should Embrace Fair Wages Movement

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If state Rep. Joe Dorman wants to become a credible candidate for governor in Oklahoma he should embrace the national fair wages movement and push for raises for state workers.

Dorman, a Rush Springs Democrat, recently announced he’s forming an exploratory committee to determine if he should run for governor. Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has announced she’s running for reelection. Former state Rep. Randy Brogdon, a Republican, has also announced he’s running along with R.J. Harris, of Norman, who describes himself as a libertarian Democrat.

At this point, it looks like Fallin will be difficult to beat. Her approval ratings remain high, and the anti-President Barack Obama hysteria here, fueled by biased, local corporate media outlets, should help her and all Republican candidates again in 2014. Both Brogdon, a social conservative, and Harris seem like outliers, running to mostly score ideological points.

That leaves us with Dorman. What are his chances? As a Red Dirt Report post written by Mark Faulk points out, Dorman has an extremely conservative voting record, which includes votes in favor of draconian anti-abortion bills. He’s unlikely to generate a lot of enthusiasm among progressives, especially if he chooses to run a Republican-lite campaign. That’s why it’s important he define himself with issues that can solidify the Democratic base while peeling away Republican votes from Fallin.

I don’t know where Dorman stands on what’s been called the fair wages or living wages movement and raises for state workers, many of whom haven’t seen salary increases in several years. But by highlighting these issues, among others, such as education funding, Dorman could become a more credible candidate and also shed light on growing income inequality in Oklahoma and this country.

Dorman should commit to trying to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 in Oklahoma if Congress doesn’t do so under a plan supported by Obama. He should also commit in his campaign to trying to raise state workers’ salaries by at least five percent, if not more, if he’s elected governor. These issues can win votes, and also force the hands of Republicans.

States and cities across the country have begun to raise or to consider raising their local minimum wage because of inaction on the issue by the gridlocked U.S. Congress.

According to the Living Wage Calculator, a single parent with two children needs to make $21.63 an hour in Oklahoma County to make ends meet. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour keeps people here and elsewhere mired in poverty. Meanwhile, corporate profits are soaring after the so-called “end” of the Great Recession.

By highlighting these issues, Dorman could risk alienating the state’s corporate power structure, but what has he or any other Democrat got to lose if they really intend to run a viable campaign for statewide office at this particular time?

Oklahoma workers, both in the private and public sectors, need a popular and credible champion. Could it be Dorman?

Should State Democrats Embrace Independents In Primary, Runoff Elections?

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Recently on Okie Funk, I’ve lamented the dearth of serious Democratic candidates so far for major statewide offices in the 2014 election.

It’s shaping up to be another Republican sweep in 2014, except perhaps for the state Schools Superintendent race, which has drawn some solid Democratic interest.

So here’s an idea getting bandied about among some progressives: What if state Democrats opened up their primary and runoff elections to voters registered as Independents over the next two years?

Think that can’t happen? Well, I basically thought that, too, until someone brought to my attention a little-discussed or known statue in Oklahoma law that allows this to happen in odd-numbered years. Here’s the law:

The state chairman of the party shall, between November 1 and 30 of every oddnumbered year, notify the Secretary of the State Election Board as to whether or not the party intends to permit registered voters designated as Independents to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party. If the state chairman notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party's intention to so permit, registered voters designated as Independents shall be permitted to vote in any Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party held in the following two (2) calendar years. If the state chairman of one party notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party's intent to so permit, the notification period specified in this paragraph shall be extended to December 15 for the state chairman of any other party to so notify or to change prior notification. A registered voter designated as Independent shall not be permitted to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of more than one party.

According to the law, all it takes is for the chairpersons of the Oklahoma Democratic Party or Oklahoma Republican Party to make this happen. If one party does allow Independents to vote in their elections, then the other party will be allowed the chance to do so as well. Independents could only vote in one party’s primary and runoff elections.

What Democrats could gain from such a move is to show Independent voters that they endorse a big-tent philosophy, which allows everyone to participate fully in elections. It also has the potential to create more votes for Democratic candidates in the general election as Independents get vested in certain candidates for whom they voted in the primary election.

Perhaps, most important, what else can Democrats do at this point to win statewide offices? This is an action the party could take to stir things up. If it adds up to nothing significant, then what have they lost? It’s only for two years, anyway. In 2015, the party could go back to the old system.

It would also force the Republican Party to consider doing the same thing. If the GOP did open up their primary elections to Independents, it might put pressure on well-funded incumbent candidates as their challengers sought out these new votes.

Of course, the downside to all this is that, at least theoretically, Independent votes could be used to sabotage the strongest candidates from each party in the primary, and that could include Democratic candidates. I’m unsure how that could be organized among a group of people that like to be known as independent, but non-statewide election races could conceivably be affected. The issue is whether the person elected in the primary would truly represent the views of the particular party, whatever they might be, especially when it comes to Democrats here.

Here’s some information about open primaries in the United States that outlines the constitutional arguments and other issues.

Opening their primary and runoff elections to Independents is at least an idea for Democrats. I think it deserves some discussion given the GOP dominance in the state right now, and we’re getting close to November when a decision would have to be made.

According to the Oklahoma Election Board, there are 962,072 registered Democrats, 897,663 registered Republicans and 256,450 registered Independents. That comes to around 2.1 million voters. Some political pundits speculate that Republicans will eventually surpass Democrats in voter registration and that Independent registrations will continue to grow, but that could change.

Where Have All The Candidates Gone?

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It comes as no surprise that so-called “big-name” Democrats in Oklahoma haven’t emerged yet to challenge Republicans in 2014 for top statewide positions, including the governor’s office.

Here’s some rather non-startling information: If the big names ran, whoever they are, they would most certainly lose, and that would mean a lot of money and energy would have been expended in what many would say is a futile effort from the beginning.

Republicans have a vice-like grip on this state right now, except in urban Tulsa and Oklahoma City pockets and scattered state areas because, as the prevailing wisdom goes, Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, remains highly unpopular here. It’s a backlash. One interesting question remains how much of this has to do with basic racism among some Oklahomans, which is often difficult to quantify when solely looking at election numbers or considering anecdotal evidence and historical precedent.

I know Republicans will point to the election of House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who is of American-Indian and African-American ancestry, as refutation of the racism argument, but Shannon is deeply conservative and goes out of his way to play out the GOP tropes and talking points to secure his conservative bonafides. He espouses the extremist views of a party that is deeply white and intolerant. He provides the cover when Republicans here are accused of intolerance. He has a particular role, and it’s frankly to be mentioned in paragraphs like this one in the media as a counter argument to charges of GOP bigotry on the state and national level.

The point is that the Obama hysteria here is so rootless that it pushes one to think that racism has to be the key. Obamacare? Well, some of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act aren’t even in effect yet. There are simply no real horror stories about the new law here. It’s all just spooky speculation of what could happen. The bad economy? Well, Oklahoma has done much better in the economic downturn that started under a Republican president than most states. Oklahoma City’s unemployment rate, for example, has been one of the lowest in the nation among metropolitan cities for several months. Obama’s supposed “liberal values” seeping into the state? Well, the Oklahoma legislation under Republican domination has passed a bevy of ultra-conservative bills in recent years. What more can a conservative ask for?

Oklahoma is doing well in an economic sense, and its Republican legislature is pumping out the right-wing extremist legislation session after session. So what’s this Obama-hatred all about? I continue to argue that Obama still represents “the other” to many Oklahomans, and much of that is tied to bigotry. There’s no way to quantify this. You can’t do it by survey or interviews in the contemporary world in which the open expression of racism is now culturally forbidden. Few people will admit they’re racists. Even more who do have views of Obama tainted by racism probably aren’t consciously aware of the fact. I argue that this concealed, and, in some cases, subtle institutionalized bigotry helps produce the anti-Obama hysteria here that has no basis in fact. This, in turn, creates fear, which results in low-information voters exercising their right to vote based on misplaced visceral judgments that often conflict with their economic interests.

But that doesn’t solve anything for Democrats here. They are faced with simply waiting out Obama’s second term or investing a lot of money and time for probably nothing. One argument is that Democrats should field the best candidates possible and run campaigns for statewide offices for the experience and to engage younger activists, but the reality is that when everyone knows they are engaged in a losing cause a sense of deflation can set in. The impact of that deflation may well outweigh the gaining of election experience.

Who has a chance, anyway? Former Gov. Brad Henry could run against U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe or try for a Congressional seat, but that seems unlikely given that he hasn’t said anything about it. House Minority Leader Scott Inman has a following and is widely respected among Democrats, but could he really upset Gov. Mary Fallin in her reelection bid? What about state Senator Minority Leader Sean Burrage? Former state Sen. Andrew Rice, who ran against Inhofe in 2008, is always mentioned as a candidate for statewide office, but he has said, according to media reports, he doesn’t want to run for office again until his children are older. Former Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth? There are other Democrats with some name recognition, but, frankly, 2014 is shaping up as another banner year for Republicans here. Things could change, but even then it’s difficult to imagine a series of events that could turn it around for Democrats in the near future.

Some Democratic candidates have emerged to challenge state Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, and that’s great, but it’s just not the same thing as having a strong Democratic candidate who could actually really challenge Fallin or Inhofe.

So it goes for Democrats in Oklahoma these days, and the media here isn’t going to help Democrats either. The Tulsa World, under new ownership, has even announced it plans to “fix” the perception that its editorial page is too far to the left. We all know The Oklahoman is one of the most conservative newspapers in the country. Local television news here and elsewhere has become pretty much worthless in terms of any in-depth political coverage that might enlighten viewers beyond the typical dichotomies and clichés. Talk radio remains deeply conservative. Local and state internet sites and discussion boards, along with social media, have not proven to be game changers—at least this is my perception—in any political context here, left or right, though that could change.

It might be a waiting game for Democrats here that goes on for a while, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes the next president. Although the Clintons probably arouse less animosity here than Obama, it’s certain that Hillary Clinton and her husband would face a demeaning onslaught of rhetoric here during her candidacy and after her election if that were to happen, and right now I would bet she would be elected with about the same numbers, if not more, than Obama in 2012.

What has to happen in Oklahoma is a voting revolution from the ground up once people grow tired of and get angry about GOP policies that favor the privileged over the middle class. Once people wake up to wealth disparity and income inequality here and in the south, the conservative movement will implode through its own excesses. Its false and misleading populism with then be exposed, and its power will be neutralized for generations.

What progressives CAN do is find smaller stages on which they can enact a difference. For example, Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid is running for mayor in 2014. His election would bring progressive ideas and initiatives to this area, and might very well be a start of something that can be translated into more election victories for progressive candidates elsewhere in this area and even the state.

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